Jim Anton Remembers LZ Margo (continued)
"Good Job, Rook!"
Early the next morning Sea Knights began circling the hill. Our LZ was so small only one bird at a time could come in. Since Echo was last in, we'd be last out. It felt odd watching group after group run onto choppers and leave. It wasn't lost on us that soon the entire hill would be held by only 20 of us. My platoon had hit the ground with 58 guys, I think. We were down to 20 now. What had been a platoon was now a large squad.
The choppers were landing near where the other units were dug in. The captain was on the radio with the pilot and wanted the bird to land much closer to us. The captain asked if anyone had a smoke grenade or flak panel. Nobody had any smoke left but I had a panel. It was an orange nylon panel about a yard square. Placed on the ground it gives the pilot a target. I'd seen it laying on the LZ and picked it up, folded it, and tucked it into the liner of my helmet. He told me where he wanted it and I took off. I weighed it down with a few rocks and trotted back.
One of our guys yelled something like, "Good job rook!" Capt. Cregan took that time to let everyone know that I was no longer to be called a rookie. Made me feel good. I'd been there about three months and graduated from new guy or rookie.
The captain came over while we waited for the bird and told me I'd made it through a tough one and did my job. Made my day. I hadn't realized until then that of all the guys who joined the unit over the last few months, I was the only one still standing.
Anyway it was finally our turn to go. We hustled on the big bird and lifted off. The pilot hovered just over the trees and dropped down into the river valley with the engines screaming. It was an exhilarating ride traveling at high speed just above the water. We were headed to a new LZ, one deep in the jungle about two miles away.
I'd be in the field for a few more days before the captain told me I was taking a Medevac out. My throat wound was getting worse. I could barely form words. Eventually they'd find my vocal cords were paralyzed. And my back was getting worse. It was stiffening up and the scraps of metal were getting annoying.
I caught a Medevac to a small base camp called LZ Stud. There the metal was cut out of my back. From there another chopper took me to the hospital in Danang. There I had my legs bandaged. Only time in my life I ever had my legs shaved. After that I was flown out to the hospital ship Sanctuary where I'd spend 21 days. Most of that time I'd carry a note pad and pen as I wasn't able to talk.
Newly-promoted Lance Corporal Jim Anton receives a Purple Heart, one of three he was awarded.
On day 22 I flew back to my unit and joined them at Red Beach. Through one of those odd quirks of fate the first person I saw upon arrival was Cpl. Shroeder.
He was surprised to see me as he thought I'd been killed on Margo.
It's still hard to believe that everything that happened took place in less than a week.